This time last year, a movement was beginning in New York City that would spark numerous others across the country — including one on the UC Berkeley campus — and bring attention to national issues of inequality.
Occupy Wall Street’s one-year anniversary, Sept. 17, was marked last week by marches, protests and arrests. But the size of the groups that thronged to Zuccotti Park and elsewhere was smaller than last year’s peaks. As Occupy Wall Street has declined in size, so too have its equivalent movements in other cities — including Occupy Cal.
“Occupy’s main tactic was to congregate in a public place, and that requires people,” said Honest Chung, a UC Berkeley fifth year and member of Students for a Democratic University — a campus organization dedicated to increasing student independence from the administration. “The number of people we can get to organize is low as compared to last year … looking on the surface, I think it’s easy to say that the momentum has died.”
From the beginning, the movement was criticized on both the national and local levels for its sometimes unclear message and lack of defined leadership. But Maggie Hardy, a second-year political science major who participated in Occupy Cal, said that this did not define the movement.
“It’s true that the movement did not have a set of goals that it agreed on at a national level, or even a national organization,” Hardy said in an email. “But I don’t think that those things were terribly essential; the Occupy movement is important because it has brought people together who previously felt isolated and under-represented by a political system dominated by big money.”
Hardy added that a number of issue-specific organizations like SDU, of which many past campus Occupy protesters are now members, and Occupy Education Northern California, which includes a number of Bay Area students and teachers, would never have come about without Occupy. Through them, Hardy said, the movement persists.
Still, the physical presence of protests on campus so far this year is far from what it was last fall. In October, demonstrations planned for that November in response to potential tuition hikes were renamed in solidarity with the national movement, and Occupy Cal was born.
And from Nov. 9, when campus police used batons on protesters and made national headlines, to Nov. 15, when campus public policy professor and former U.S. secretary of labor Robert Reich addressed a crowd of thousands on Sproul Plaza, Occupy Cal was impossible to ignore.
However, despite a number of events taking place throughout the spring semester — including a May 1 Day of Action and attempts by Occupy Cal members to win seats in the ASUC Senate — the movement was unable to attract the physical presence on campus it had in fall 2011. These circumstances have continued on into this school year.
“Occupy was not just about spatial occupations but about resisting futures of financialization, debt, and so forth,” said Ananya Roy, a campus professor of city and regional planning, in an email. “That said, like many social movements, Occupy had its ebb and flow. It may not be prominent anymore but that it changed the American “common sense” about inequality, financial capitalism, and created a sense of solidarity (99%, perhaps now replaced by Romney’s infamous 47%) is indubitable.”
Outside of UC Berkeley, however, Occupy has continued to evolve. In April, protesters broke into a UC-owned tract of land in Albany to plant hundreds of crops, partly in order to promote urban farming. As of Sept. 9, protesters were still breaking into the Gill Tract to tend to their crops, despite researchers’ protests.
A picket and rally at Bancroft Way and Telegraph Avenue is planned for noon on Thursday to stand in solidarity with AFSCME 3299, the union that represents more than 20,000 service and patient care workers at the university. In October, SDU is hosting a statewide student union-building conference on campus.
“Occupy succeeded in changing protest culture — it was the first actual movement that spread nationwide that our generation took place in,” Chung said. “The Occupy form might go away, but we’re still here. There’s always going to be activists and organizations — it’s just a matter of visibility.”